The Corner

National Security & Defense

The Baltic Question

Vice President Pence has just been in Tallinn, the Estonian capital. Last year, on August 23, his predecessor was in the region — in Riga, the Latvian capital. August 23 is an extremely important date in the Baltics: the date, in 1939, on which Germany and the Soviet Union signed their pact, consigning the Balts and others to Hell.

Last summer, Donald Trump was worrying the Baltic republics a great deal, with his talk about NATO, and about the Baltics in particular. His surrogates were worrying them too. Most spectacularly, Newt Gingrich dismissed Estonia as “the suburbs of St. Petersburg.”

(Gingrich had been one of the foremost advocates of the eastward expansion of NATO. But that was BT, Before Trump.)

In Riga, on August 23, Joe Biden said, “I want to make it absolutely clear to all the people in the Baltic states: We have pledged our sacred honor, the United States of America, to the NATO treaty and Article 5.” He also said that people in the region should not listen to Trump — whose comments about NATO and the Baltics were “nothing that should be taken seriously.”

Well, Trump was elected. And in Tallinn, Pence has just said, “Under President Donald Trump, the United States stands firmly behind our Article 5 pledge of mutual defense: An attack on one of us is an attack on us all.”

That is important for a vice president to say — especially a vice president to Trump. But it is all the more important for a president to say. The president is the commander-in-chief, and where the buck stops. And Trump said it, though in not especially convincing fashion, in his recent speech in Warsaw.

In 2014, Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, was in Tallinn, addressing Balts in general. He said,

Countries like Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania are not “post-Soviet territory.” You are sovereign and independent nations with the right to make your own decisions. No other nation gets to veto your security decisions. …

… we will defend our NATO allies, and that means every ally. In this alliance, there are no old members or new members, no junior partners or senior partners — there are just allies, pure and simple. And we will defend the territorial integrity of every single ally. …

… the defense of Tallinn and Riga and Vilnius is just as important as the defense of Berlin and Paris and London.

Is this the way it ought to be? Is that “globalist” and not “America First”? What about the question of deterrence? Well, I wrote a nine-part journal last fall, which I won’t try to recapitulate in this li’l post! But if you would like a magazine article — more manageable — go here.


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